Lodge owner takes on Park Service - Fine for Wrangell-St. Elias pallet bridge shows agency out of control, man says
(Published: February 19, 2004)
Doug and Judy Frederick of Slana, owners of Sportsmen's Paradise Lodge inside the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, stand outside the Federal Courthouse in Anchorage earlier this month. The Fredericks were fined $500 by the National Park Service for failing to have a permit to place wooden pallets on muddy sections of a trail in the park. (Photo by RAY KREIG / The Associated Press)
He's refusing to pay a $500 fine for failing to have a permit to place wooden pallets on muddy sections of a trail inside the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park because he says the agency invited his help and then betrayed him.
"I was working with the Park Service. Basically, they set me up," Frederick said. "Somebody has to expose the Park Service. These people are clear out of control."
Frederick's lawyer filed an appeal Tuesday.
Frederick, 54, said his problems with the National Park Service show an increasingly hostile attitude the agency is taking toward private property owners inside the country's largest national park. There are several hundred inholders inside the 13.2 million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and collectively they own about 1 million acres.
"The Park Service will do anything to get inholders out," Frederick said. "They don't want anybody living in their park."
Frederick's family has owned its property since the 1950s, well before Wrangell-St. Elias was established in 1980.
Despite what many inholders think, park superintendent Gary Candelaria said the agency does not want to drive them out.
"It is not our intent to acquire the inholdings and move them out," he said. "None of us, from myself down to the ranger, we don't like adversarial relationships with our neighbors. We're just folks, too."
Candelaria became Wrangell-St. Elias superintendent in 1999. His most recent position before that was as superintendent of Pinnacles National Monument in California. For 11 years, he was chief ranger at Sitka National Historical Park.
Frederick's problems began in July 2002 when about 85 people attended a meeting with Park Service officials to discuss a trail damaged by four-wheelers.
According to a court document, chief ranger Hunter Sharp asked the crowd for ideas on repairing the trail and said the Park Service didn't have the money to do the work itself.
Frederick said the locals could help fix up the mudholes. Sharp responded, "That's one way to approach it." He also said he could not officially approve repairs, but, "if you are trying to do the right thing I will not jump on your case."
Last May, Frederick and some friends loaded pallets onto four-wheelers and headed into the park. They placed the pallets across three muddy areas to keep the trail from being further damaged. He sent a photo of the pallets in use to a regional supervisor, asking him what he thought.
What happened next floored Frederick, he said. The agency cited him for building inside the park without a permit. A federal magistrate fined him $500 this month.
"They never once said I needed a permit," Frederick said. "We were set up -- lock, stock and barrel."
Candelaria said Frederick was told to get a permit if he wanted to do work in the park.
"He violated park regulations and did so knowingly, I think," Candelaria said. "He never gave us a chance to talk to him. He went out and did it first. ... He just kind of blew us all off."
Federal magistrate John Roberts said in his decision, "The fact that the ranger stated at a meeting that he was not looking to write tickets or punish anyone, but just 'fix' the problem, is not an invitation to a citizen to fix the problem on his own without Park Service participation."
Frederick's attorney, Wayne Anthony Ross, said the pallets were no more construction than somebody setting up a tent. If the Park Service didn't like the pallets, all they had to do was to ask Frederick to remove them.
"These people were trying to provide assistance and they got nailed by the Park Service," Ross said.
Frederick's father built the Sportsmen's Paradise Lodge in Slana in 1969 on about six acres. Frederick also has five acres on a lake with some rental cabins. Frederick took over the lodge in 2001 after his father died.
In August 2002, the Park Service decided to close a couple of trails near Frederick's lodge because of four-wheeler damage. Frederick said those trails had been used for decades, and one of them was a route to his rental cabins.
Frederick said closing the trails has just about killed his summer business. He can't find customers willing to pay $1,900 to get to and from the cabins by charter plane.
While he still has some snowmobilers who like to ice fish, the days are gone when families with children would rent out the cabins for the Fourth of July holiday, he said.
"It is getting tougher and tougher and tougher. My folks used to be able to make a living here, but over the years they watched the business disappear, ever since the Park Service came in," Frederick said.
Inholders may view access differently than park managers, said Park Service spokesman John Quinley.
"They clearly have rights of access, but it is not unfettered access. It is subject to reasonable regulation," he said.
Ray Kreig, vice chairman of the Alaska Land Rights Coalition, a group that is fighting for inholders, said the Park Service is trying to undo rights guaranteed under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. The congressional act designated a total of 106 million acres of Alaska as parks, refuges, preserves and recreation areas, and says inholders are entitled to reasonable access to their properties inside the parks.
Kreig said Alaska's national parks are increasingly being controlled by park supervisors with a Lower 48 park management mentality.
"They want a green wall around the park that nobody can go in unless they're healthy hikers," Kreig said. "Our parks were supposed to be different."
Kreig is involved in another access case in the Wrangell-St.Elias involving the 17-member "Pilgrim" family. The family, which owns 140 acres, got the Park Service's attention when it used a bulldozer to reopen an old mining road so it could bring supplies in from the nearest town. The agency reacted by closing the road.
A federal judge ruled that the family should have gotten a permit to use the bulldozer and would have to wait for the agency to issue an environmental assessment.
The 120-page assessment issued in January favors giving the family a special use permit to use the road. But Kreig said the Park Service has placed so many restrictions on the permit it is of little practical use to bring in much-needed supplies, including fuel and building insulation.
"Congress grants people like the Pilgrims and Frederick access to their property," Kreig said. To deny that access "is unfair, a gross injustice."
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